France is a more popular destination for Indian visitors than the UK – with research by The Royal Commonwealth Society showing the gap is widening.
Despite the UK’s historic cultural and economic links with India, France attracted 185,000 more Indian business visitors and tourists in 2016, says the RCS.
Overall, the number of visits to the UK by Indian nationals fell by 1.73% in 2016, while in France it grew by 5.3%.
The RCS warns that the UK is losing its market share of Indian visitors, missing out on almost £500 million a year and more than 8,000 tourism jobs.
Michael Lake, RCS director, said: “Given the strong historic ties between the UK and India in areas such as trade, culture and business, the fact that France continues to attract more Indian visitors than the UK is not only hugely surprising, but also enormously concerning.
“It’s clear that more needs to be done to build stronger links between such important Commonwealth partners.”
MPs are joining representatives from the RCS and the travel and tourism sector in Parliament today (March 7), reiterating their calls for a UK-Indian bilateral visa agreement “to stop this decline and kick-start growth in the number of Indian visitors to the UK”.
The call comes ahead of the Commonwealth Summit to be held in London next month, which Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend.
The RCS said: “Given that the competitiveness of the UK visa offering globally has plummeted from 22nd to 108th in international rankings, a UK-India bilateral visa agreement would be an ideal initial step in making the UK a more attractive destination for Indian visitors. The agreement would be similar to the one recently put in place with China.”
Campaign supporter Virendra Sharma – MP for Ealing Southall – said: “A new UK-India bilateral visa agreement will enhance trade and tourism, as well as strengthen important business and cultural ties, enabling both the UK and India to capitalise on future global opportunities.”
A factsheet entitled Britain and India – building a new visa partnership will be launched in Parliament today (March 7).
Produced by the RCS, the factsheet is supported by Airlines UK, Airport Operators Association, Confederation of Indian Industry, Edwardian Hotels, Tourism Alliance and UKinbound.
The new UK-India Visa Agreement being proposed would reduce the cost of a two-year visa from £388 to £89 and allow travellers to make repeat visits within two years.
This would mirror the reduced cost two-year multiple entry visa that was launched in January 2016 for visitors travelling both ways between the UK and China.